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How to Add Amazing Water Effects in Photoshop in just 5 Steps

Add a splash of creativity to your photos with these Photoshop water effects tutorials!

Water is a versatile and dynamic element that can add depth and movement to your photos. Whether you want to create a serene landscape or a dramatic action shot, incorporating water effects in Photoshop can help you achieve the desired mood and atmosphere.


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Water can be tricky to Photoshop, adding too much can result in a murky effect, while not doing enough may make the water look out of place. In this image, the building sits in a site flooded from sea level rise approximately 100 years from now. I wanted the water to be very dynamic and show how it would bring new life to the project. In this post, I will show how blending layers in a light-dark pattern can add a good amount of detail that is not directly perceived, but creates a photo realistic style while maintaining dramatic qualities.

Light vs Dark

What I mean by using a light and dark pattern is that the layer order I choose has to directly relate to whether or not I want the image to become brighter or darker. By doing this alternatively, the image doesn't get too dense and maintains a balance. It's important not to fixate on any particular step, as the big picture comes together after adding all the appropriate layers and blend modes. The diagram below explains the method with the intended results.

Blend Modes

Blend modes changes the way the pixels in one layer relate to the pixels in the layer below. Clicking on the Blend Mode drop down menu twice will highlight it in blue, which means the down and up arrows on your keyboard will allow you to easily switch between options.

The following sections show the layer being added to the base render on the right side, the layer blend mode used on the left, and the result underneath.


The first layer that is added to the base render (shown in the Intro) is the reflection layer. This is image is a V-ray render with the same settings as the base, except there is a reflective layer material placed just above the floor. Notice on the right side of the picture, the reflection is brighter since the floor is further away.


The reflections layer is then duplicated, increased in contrast, and changed to the "darken" blend mode to add more detail to the reflection of the building.


Water Texture

The choice in texture is crucial to make the image work, I chose one that had a little perspective to it so that I could easily use the transform tools to apply the proper perspective. After editing the saturation and contrast of the texture, I lowered the opacity to 70% and used the blend mode "multiply."

Shallow Water

Because the water is so close to the underlying floor, I placed a rock texture to add that visual information showing through the water. Below, you can see how I placed this texture while the other layers are hidden.

The result is very subtle, however since the rock texture is seen most closest to the point of view the water depth is correctly perceived.

Water Context

Small fish and other details can be added to further develop the changes in depth in the water. Notice that the fish on the left are bright, and appear closer to the surface when compared to the sharks on the right.

Liquify Reflections

Finally, I copied the Reflections layer and singled out the reflection of the building. The natural effects of moving water is applied by adding the Ocean Ripple filter under Filter>Filter Gallery>Distort>Ocean Ripple. The blend mode used here can vary and create many different effects that suit your graphic language.

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